From Educator To Entrepreneur: Abena Boamah-Acheampong On Creating A Sustainable Brand With Hanahana Beauty
Sometimes the best solutions aren't found in reinventing the wheel but instead found through getting back to the basics. That is a truth that helped founder and CEO Abena Boamah-Acheampong sow the seeds that would eventually make her clean beauty brand Hanahana Beauty bloom. Birthed from a place of needing nourishing skincare products to combat Chicago’s harsh, cold weather, Abena happened upon a solution for dry skin by turning to a trusted product she grew up on, shea butter.
This time though, instead of just using the raw material, the Ghanaian-American began formulating different products in her kitchen until she landed on three body butters, lavender vanilla, lemongrass, and eucalyptus. And after trying the products on her family and friends, the former algebra teacher said goodbye to education and hello to the beauty space with the launch of her brand, Hanahana Beauty.
Since launching in 2017, Hanahana Beauty and its holy grail Body Butters have become more than a skincare and wellness brand. In addition to providing skincare essentials for melanated individuals, Abena wanted her brand to have a social impact that offered levels of sustainability for not just herself, but for the Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative–where she sources her shea butter–through her Hanahana Circle of Care, an organization that provides healthcare access and education and wellness activations.
Today, Abena is preparing for retail expansion following her recent launches in Revolve and JCPenny, as well as looking for new ways to create access to the brand by listening to her community and focusing on what they want. In this conversation with xoNecole, Hanahana Beauty founder, Abena Boamah-Acheampong talks with us about the importance of creating a sustainable beauty brand, how her time in Ghana shaped Hanahana Beauty, and what advice she gives to the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs.
xoNecole: When did you realize you wanted to go into the skincare and wellness space?
Abena Boamah-Acheampong: In 2014, I was teaching and in grad school, and started making shea products for myself, because the cold weather in Chicago was drying my skin out. I'm Ghanian. So the first thing that I thought about was shea butter. I grew up using it and wanted a better product instead of the raw material.
I became interested in the wellness space, through the eyes of what it would be like as a therapist in beauty. But around 2017, as my parents and my friends began using the products, they encouraged me to start something. And that's when I decided to start a business. But even then, I was more so interested in the social impact.
I felt like the beauty industry was unsustainable, and it didn't make sense to me. I realized how much money was being made and saw how there was a lack of sustainability. So as I started, I became more interested in beauty and wellness as a business and a brand. But all of it came back to me being both an educator and a graduate student, and how to create levels of sustainability through people or whatever I wanted to do.
"I became interested in the wellness space, through the eyes of what it would be like as a therapist in beauty. But around 2017, as my parents and my friends began using the products, they encouraged me to start something. And that's when I decided to start a business. But even then, I was more so interested in the social impact."
xoN: How much time did you spend with the Katariga women in Ghana as you were developing your brand? What did you learn from them? And then how did your time there shape Hanahana Beauty?
ABA: I launched in 2017 but didn’t go back to Ghana until after. There, I met the producers of Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative, and that experience shaped the whole look of Hanahana Circle of Care. After finishing grad school in 2018, I moved to Ghana and lived in Accra. I was going back to the city of Tamale–which is where we source the raw materials–once a month.
And during the first seven months to a year of living in Ghana, the Hanahana Circle of Care began as an initiative surrounding healthcare and access to it. Because the women there felt that that was what they were lacking. So we held bi-annual healthcare days along with monthly health education and just kept growing. During this time, we began to look at what are some things that we, as a brand, have access to. And what can we give access to?
Then, in 2021, we decided that with all of the work that we had been doing–where we were pulling money from our sales to do this work–how do we now just create it, so it's more sustainable and expanding? So how do we look at access to healthcare in a way that we can mobilize it? So that's when we formatted it to become a fiscal sponsor.
We worked with The Body: A Home for Love–a nonprofit founded by Deun Ivory–who is our fiscal sponsor. When I launched Hanahana, being a B Corporation was always something that I strived for and now the Hanahana Circle of Care is moving into becoming a nonprofit.
xoN: How many products did you initially launch and how long did it take for you to develop them?
ABA: We launched with three shea butters: lavender vanilla, lemongrass, and eucalyptus. We also launched the shea balm which, at the time, we called the exfoliating bar. I had been making the products since 2014 and just working on different formulations for myself. And in December 2016, I went home to see my parents and told them that I wanted to start a brand. I already knew the formulas because I was working on them for three years for myself and my friends and family, so it took me three months to launch the brand.
Now, if I was launching a whole brand today, I would think of it very differently. But that time was perfect for me because people got to grow with me as a founder, as a person, and as a teacher who was making products. They got a chance to grow with the brand from the time I was making products in my kitchen to now having a team and doing different launches.
xoN: How was the transition from being an educator to pursuing entrepreneurship full-time?
ABA: My transition came from a place of me having to do it. I was in my second year of grad school and had been teaching for two years. When it came to my third year of teaching, I had to decide to move into finishing my master's program and that’s when I started Hanahana. But when I finished in 2018, I moved to Ghana and was a therapist for maybe six months while still building the brand. And in 2018, I was just doing Hanahana full-time.
I feel like I didn't realize [the career transition] because, for me, it was more so the idea that I wasn’t going to apply to anything else after grad school. I remember talking to my parents because they wanted me to get my license. But I felt like if I couldn’t make it in Ghana, then I would keep doing therapy.
While in Ghana, though, I was inspired to continue taking the creative entrepreneur route. And if Hanahana didn’t work out, then I had already realized how my skills as a teacher and everything that I learned as a therapist worked in the creative and entrepreneurial space.
"I have to prioritize my growth to be able to prioritize anything. A lot of times in this self-care era–and in spaces where you're promoting self-care–people find themselves promoting and centering self instead of growth. And I think when you center growth, you're going to think of how you affect people through work, through your personal life, all those things."
xoN: What have you learned about yourself since launching Hanahana Beauty and how would you use that to inspire the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs?
ABA: I've learned that I have to prioritize my growth to be able to prioritize anything. A lot of times in this self-care era–and in spaces where you're promoting self-care–people find themselves promoting and centering self instead of growth. And I think when you center growth, you're going to think of how you affect people through work, through your personal life, all those things.
So I think that's important because as entrepreneurs, and especially as Black women entrepreneurs, we're told to focus on one thing. But then how do you build this brand if you want to be a mom, or if you are a mom, or if you're just being a Black woman in general? Sometimes capitalism can be very consuming and it really pushes us to a level of self-centeredness and also lack. And I feel like when you prioritize growth, it allows you to see every situation as a new opportunity for yourself to grow.
For more of Abena, follow her on Instagram @beanieboamah and @hanahana_beauty.
Featured image courtesy of Abena Boamah-Acheampong
Racquel Coral is an experienced lifestyle writer focusing on self-love, growth, body positivity, and profiles of Black-owned businesses and community heros. Her work can be found here, and she can be found on all social media platforms @withloveracquel.
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Chief Mom Officer: 23 Quotes From Working Moms Finding Their Balance
The truth is, Black moms create magic every single day. Whether we're juggling motherhood with a busy 9-5, a thriving business, or staying at home to run a household, no day is short of amazing when you're managing life as a mommy. This Mother's Day, xoNecole is giving flowers to CMOs (Chief Mom Officers) in business who exemplify the strength it takes to balance work with motherhood. We've commissioned these ladies, who are pillars in their respective industries, for tidbits of advice to get you through the best and worst days of mothering. Here, they share their "secret sauce" and advice for other moms trying to find their rhythm.
Emmelie De La Cruz, Chief Strategist at One Day CMO
"My mom friends and I all laugh and agree: Motherhood is the ghettoest thing you will ever do. It's beautiful and hard all at the same time, but one day you will wake up and feel like 'I got this' and you will get the hang of it. After 4 months, I finally felt like I found my footing to keep my kid and myself alive, but it took vulnerability to take off the cape and be honest about the areas that I didn't have it all together. The healing (physically and emotionally) truly does happen in community - whatever and whoever that looks like for you."
Alizè V. Garcia, Director Of Social & Community Impact at Nike
"I would tell a new mom or a prospective mother that they must give themselves grace, understand and remember there is no right way to do this thing and have fun! When I had my daughter three and a half years ago, I was petrified! I truly had no clue about what to do and how I was going to do it. But with time, my confidence grew and I realized quickly that I have all the tools I need to be the mother I want to be."
Nikki Osei-Barrett, Publicist + Co-Founder of The Momference
"There's no balance. I'm dropping sh*t everywhere! However, my secret sauce is pursuing interests and hobbies outside of what's required of me and finding time to workout. Stronger body equals = stronger mind."
Lauren Grove, Chief Experience Architect, The Grant Access, LLC
"I try to give myself grace. That’s my mantra for this phase of motherhood…grace. I won’t be able to get everything done. To have a spotless house. To not lose my cool after an exhausting day. Those things can’t happen all of the time. But I can take a deep breath and know tomorrow is another day and my blessings are more plentiful than my pitfalls."
Rachel Nicks, Founder & CEO of Birth Queen
"You have the answers within you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Curate your life to work for you. Ask for help."
Tanisha Colon-Bibb, Founder + CEO Rebelle Agency + Rebelle Management
"I know love doesn't pay bills but when I am overwhelmed with work or client demands I take a moment to play with my baby and be reminded of the love, energy, science, and Godliness that went into his birth. I am brightened by his smile and laugh. I remember I am someone's parent and not just a work horse. That at the end of the day everything will work out for the good of my sanity and the love within my life."
Christina Brown, Founder of LoveBrownSugar & BabyBrownSugar
"Learning your rhythm as a mom takes time and can be uncomfortable when you’re in a season of overwhelm. Constantly check in with yourself and assess what’s working and what’s not. Get the help you need without feeling guilty or ashamed of needing it."
Mecca Tartt, Executive Director of Startup Runway Foundation
"I want to be the best for myself, my husband, children and company. However, the reality is you can have it all but not at the same time. My secret sauce is outsourcing and realizing that it’s okay to have help in order for me to perform at the highest level."
Jen Hayes Lee, Head Of Marketing at The Bump (The Knot Worldwide)
"My secret sauce is being direct and honest with everyone around me about what I need to be successful in all of my various "jobs". Setting boundaries is one thing, but if you're the only one who knows they exist, your partners at home and on the job can't help you maintain them. I also talk to my kids like adults and let them know why mommy needs to go to this conference or get this massage...they need to build an appreciation for my needs too!"
Whitney Gayle-Benta, Chief Music Officer JKBX
"What helps me push through each day is the motivation to continue by thinking about my son. All my efforts, though exhausting, are to create a wonderful life for him."
Ezinne Okoro, Global Chief Inclusion, Equity, & Diversity Officer at Wunderman Thompson,
"The advice I received that I’ll pass on is, you will continue to figure it out and find your rhythm as your child grows into new stages. Trust your nurturing intuition, parent on your terms, and listen to your child."
Jovian Zayne, CEO of The OnPurpose Movement
"I live by the personal mantra: 'You can’t be your best self by yourself.' My life feels more balanced when I offer the help I can give and ask for the help I need. This might mean outsourcing housecleaning for my home, or hiring additional project management support for my business."
Simona Noce Wright, Co-Founder of District Motherhued and The Momference
"Each season of motherhood (depending on age, grade, workload) requires a different rhythm. With that said, be open to learning, to change, and understand that what worked for one season may not work the other...and that's okay."
Janaye Ingram, Director of Community Partner Programs and Engagement at Airbnb
"My daughter's smile and sweet spirit help me to feel gratitude when I'm overwhelmed. I want her to see a woman who doesn't quit when things get hard."
Codie Elaine Oliver, CEO & Founder of Black Love
"I try to listen to my body and simply take a break. With 3 kids and a business with 10+ team members, I often feel overwhelmed. I remind myself that I deserve grace for everything I'm juggling, I take a walk or have a snack or even head home to see my kids, and then I get back to whatever I need to get done."
Jewel Burks Solomon, Managing Partner at Collab Capital
"Get comfortable with the word ‘no’. Be very clear about your non-negotiables and communicate them to those around you."
Bridget Bogee, Marketing Lead At Meta
"Ask for help and always prioritize making time for you."
Julee Wilson, Executive Director at BeautyUnited and Beauty Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan
"Understand you can’t do it alone — and that’s ok. Relinquish the need to control everything. Create a village and lean on them."
Salwa Benyaich, Director Of Pricing and Planning at Premion
"Most days I really try to shut my computer off by 6 pm; there are always exceptions of course when it comes to big deals or larger projects but having this as a baseline allows me to be much more present with my kids. I love the fact that I can either help with homework or be the designated driver to at least one afterschool activity. Work can be draining but there is nothing more emotionally draining than when you feel as though you are missing out on moments with your kids."
Brooke Ellis, Head of Global Marketing & Product Launches at Amazon Music
My calendar, prayer, pilates class at Forma, a good playlist, and oatmilk lattes all help get me through any day.
Courtney Beauzile, Global Director of Client and Business Development at Shearman & Sterling
My husband is a partner who steps in when I just can’t. My mom and my MIL come through whenever and however I need. My kids have many uncles and aunts and they will lend an ear, go over homework, teach life lessons, be a presence or a prayer warrior depending on the day.
Robin Snipes, Chief of Staff at Meta
"Enjoy the time you have to yourself because once kids come those times will be few and far between."
Monique Bivens, CEO & Founder at Brazilian Babes LLC.
"For new moms, it is very important that you get back into a habit or routine of something you use to do before you were pregnant. Consider the actives and things that give you the most joy and make the time to do them."
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